Last night, I was really tired and wanted to go to bed early. But then I heard the start of a story by Rachel Maddow on Nixon, treason, and five years of needless war. How the Vietnam war was on the verge of settlement at the end of October, 1968, and Richard Nixon scuttled those talks to get himself elected. How he committed treason. How he got away with it and set the precedent for Cheney and Bush to get away with lying about Iraq. How it set the precedence for so many terrible things that have faced our country since 1968.
I wish I was making this up. I wish Richard Nixon had stayed in California. Because the world would be a very different place if there had never been a President Nixon.
This is incredibly disturbing.
Here’s the transcript (Sorry, it’s rough.)
>> Thank you at home for joining us. we start with some jaw-dropping information about American politics that has been reported out by a British news source. it’s the BBC. they have just aired a new documentary based on oval office tapes, which proves something about the American presidency and modern history that even the most conspiratorial among us would not be able to believe. it’s about the 1968 election. the democratic electorate was split. they were not unified behind their candidate. on the right, southern white democrats who were against civil rights, they were being peeled off to vote for George Wallace, the symbol of proud segregation. also, different problem for the democrats. people hated the Vietnam war. and the president at the time was a democrat, Lyndon B. Johnson. so if you were against the war, as most Americans at that point were — this is the gallop polling on the war — the number of people who thought it was a mistake — if you were against the war as increasingly everybody was, you were so the psyched to vote for LBJ’s successor. so the democrats were losing their appeal in the south because of racism, and they were losing the anti-war vote. the republican candidate tried to take advantage of that split, and was this handsome devil. Nixon in 1968 was running against a democratic party that he knew was split. he was, in response, pledging to get rid of the draft. and he claimed to have a plan to end the war. he argued that if you wanted the war to end, you needed to elect him. you needed to vote the democrats out of office because clearly LBJ and his party, the democrats and the democratic party, Hubert Humphrey had no idea how to end the war. when you needed was total change at the white house. the democrats had to go to Nixon could come in and end Vietnam. but then less than a week before the election, it all went horribly wrong for Richard Nixon, because less than a week before election, on halloween night, 1968, the democratic president, LBJ, went on TV in a surprise nationally televised address. he made a surprise announcement that peace was at hand. the communist side, the Vietnamese side was going to be make concessions at peace talks. the south Vietnamese were going to agree to a deal. peace was at hand. the terms were all set. peace was at hand. in recognition of the fact that peace was about to be declared, the united states would step back right away and stop all military operations in vehement. LBJ said that on Thursday night. the election was going to be Tuesday. turns out the democrats know how to end this war. that was bad news for Richard Nixon, but good news for the country who wanted the war to be over. good news for the people fighting the war. this was good news, right? almost. Thursday night LBJ made that announcement, that peace was about to be agreed to, by all sides in Vietnam.
That was Thursday night. by Saturday morning, never mind, deal was off. peace was not at hand because the south Vietnamese side has decided actually it didn’t want the deal. in fact, they didn’t want to talk about it deal. they pulled out of the peace talks. and so the war was back on. what happened? what happened between Thursday and Saturday? now we know.
>> good morning. how are you, my friend?
>> I’ve got one that’s pretty rough for you. we have found that our friend, the republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he’s been doing it through rather subterranean sources here, and he has been saying to the allies that you’re going to get sold out. you better not give away your liberty just a few hours before i can preserve it for you. Mrs. Chennault is contacting their ambassador. this is not guess work. she’s young and attractive. she’s a pretty good-looking girl. she’s around town, and she is warning them to not get pulled in on this Johnson move.
>> president Lyndon Johnson, 1968, Saturday morning, November 1st, explaining to senator Richard Russell what had gone wrong with this peace deal that everybody thought was going to end the war. LBJ was so sure this was going to end the war that he went on TV Thursday night. the reason peace did not happen, what he was explaining on the phone, is that the republican nominee for president that year, Richard Nixon, had intervened in the peace talks to blow them up. he used an intermediary who was involved in the talks to approach the south Vietnamese Vietnamese side and told them don’t do it. these peace talks in Paris was not going to be a good deal for them. they should not participate. they should just wait until after the election when he, Richard Nixon, would be president and he’d give them a much better deal. Johnson was going to sell them out. he, Richard Nixon, of the one he should deal with. Nixon’s intermediary was caught on tape telling the ambassador, just hang on. we need the war to keep going through the election. it’s outrageous, right? the war could have ended. it was on the verge of ending, except a candidate for office in our country thought that the war ending would help his opponent in the election. he thought he’d have a better chance of getting elected if the war kept going. so instead of getting the war to end, he did what he did. it was astonishing. and president Johnson thought so too.
>> and they oughtn’t to be doing this. i think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important.
>> president Lyndon Johnson there on the same day as that earlier tape remark be thatter as far as he could tell, this is treason. he says it repeatedly on the tapes. he thinks that is a hanging offense. he thinks that was treason. this was four days before the election that year. having thought that the war was going to be over, now the president finds out the peace deal fell through because a candidate who wanted there not to be peace before the election intervened to make one sidewalk away. now, why didn’t LBJ say anything publicly? this is right before the election. can you imagine how the country would have reacted to that? this is a war the whole country was against. it was going to be over except candidate Nixon intervened to undo the peace deal and keep the war going? can you imagine how angry the American public would have been. but LBJ did not say anything publicly at the time because he thought he couldn’t. the reason he thought he couldn’t is the way he found out what Nixon had done. the FBI illegally wire-tapped the phones of the south Vietnamese ambassador. we couldn’t let anybody know that we were illegally listening into the ambassador’s phone lines so they couldn’t let anybody know what they had heard. so Nixon got away with it. and the October surprise. the Halloween night surprise that the war was ending right before the election, that October surprises ended up getting undone. anybody who was anti-war in the country had no reason to vote for a democrat. the racist right wing voted peeled off the the vote on the other side. and yes, Nixon won. he got by barely. squeaked by on the basis that he was the guy who knew how to end the war, not those dumb democrats. and of course Nixon did not know how to end the war. he didn’t have a plan. and instead of the war ending on Halloween in 1968, the war went on five more years, in which time 15,000 Americans were killed as were untold numbers of Vietnamese. so that happened. that actually happened, and now in 2013, what are we supposed to do with that information? LBJ is dead, Nixon is dead, George Wallace is dead. 15,000 Americans are dead who otherwise would not have been. how does this get made right? it cannot get made right because the people of this decision cannot be brought back from the dead. you also can’t get revenge. you can’t indict Nixon’s ghost. but you can refuse to let him get away with it again. we can make sure it is a way we tell his history and the history of modern politics. you have to include it in the history, both so nobody gets away with it in the long run, but also so we don’t do it again. so we at least don’t dismiss this kind of possibility as some conspiracy theory of nonsense. so we know there is precedent for this particular kind of evil.